New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday pulled the Centre over the deteriorating air pollution in the national capital and gave the government a week's time to come up with a "definite reply" on air cleaning system for the city.
"Delhi is suffering badly. It is almost 600 AQI even today. How do people breathe," the court asked, directing authorities to use to "best technology in the world" to clean air.
The court has also summoned the chief secretaries of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi to know about the steps taken to reduce air pollution in Delhi-NCR. A bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta said effective steps must be taken and 13 pollution hot-spots in Delhi cleared of pollutants.
The court also questioned the Delhi government over granting exemptions, including to two- and three-wheelers during its odd-even scheme and said pollution levels in Delhi are increasing in spite of the vehicle rotation scheme being in force. It expressed concern that despite reduction in stubble burning, pollution levels have worsened.
Meanwhile, the central government also snubbed Delhi's odd-even scheme, saying that car rationing has "hardly helped".
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government responded by alleging that stubble burning is the real culprit behind Delhi's worsening air quality. They also refuted the Centre's claims and said odd-even helps improving air quality.
Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar on Friday called for "joint action" by all agencies to combat the worsening air quality. A thick layer of toxic smog engulfed the city as the pollution level continued to remain in the 'severe' category for the fourth consecutive day on Friday.
Addressing a press conference here, Javadekar said it was not the time for different agencies to blame each other.
"Delhi pollution is not the problem of this city... Delhi's air has been worsening since 1990s. There are new challenges everyday as circumstances change. We have worked towards reducing industrial pollution, construction waste and dust etc. There is continuous work,” he said.
"But everyone should work together. Cooperation of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi government, all three MCDs and NDMC, DDA, and all other agencies is required to fix this. Everyone has to work together," the minister said, adding that the government is "very serious about the issue of air pollution.
"Air pollution is an issue to be tackled collectively by agencies. It is not the time to blame each other. We are very serious about the issue of pollution," the minister said.
The air quality index (AQI) in Delhi was in the severe category at 467 at 10 am. All the monitoring stations recorded severe air quality, according to the Central Pollution Control Board.
Dean of the Diplomatic Corps in India Ambassador Hans Dannenberg Castellanos (of Dominican Republic) also expressed concern over the air quality in Delhi and said that it affects us all. "What else can I say about pollution? It affects all of us. And it does not have a diplomatic solution nor is MEA the responsible one to solve it. This is a problem of major proportions to be solved by city and federal government, not the MEA. The odd-even scheme is a good start, but working closely with the farmers in Punjab on the issue of burning crops should also be strongly considered,” he said.
Levels of PM 2.5 and PM 10 were nearly eight times higher than normal at several locations. Schools remained closed on Friday as the thick smog enveloped Delhi and neighbouring cities.
In the National Capital Region, Faridabad, Ghaziabad, Greater Noida and Gurgaon also recorded severe air quality, the CPCB said. Ghaziabad recorded the highest pollution level at 480, remaining points away from going off charts, the CPCB data showed.
Meanwhile, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said a final call on extending the odd-even scheme would be taken on Monday as the air quality is expected to improve in the next two-three days. "We do not want people to undergo unnecessary inconvenience," Kejriwal said at a press conference.
On Thursday, a number of children had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking his urgent intervention to mitigate the air-pollution crisis, which has led to a health emergency-like situation. The Chief Minister also blamed stubble burning in neighbouring states as the reason behind increased levels of pollution.
(With PTI inputs)